Germany meets Charlotte

May 31st, 2014, I stood in the grass south of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina to photograph a German-dessigned Siemens Mobility-built model S70 tram working as the Lynx.

I like photographing modern lightrail systems in urban environments.

The sun was softened by a cloud moments before exposure. I rescued the image in post processing with some shadow-lightening and contrast adjustment, and by warming the color temperature.

Since my 2014 visit to Charlotte with photographer Pat Yough, the city has expanded its light rail system and purchased many more Siemens trams.

Lumix LX7 photo, exposed in RAW and adjusted with Adobe Lightroom to create an internet-sized JPG file.

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Red Sun in the Evening.

Last week smoke and ash from fires in western Canada made for some very unusual lighting conditions.

Driving around Strasburg, Pennsylvania, Kris and I observed the sun as red globe descending into a greyish evening sky. This seemed unworldly.

I wanted to capture this effect, and selected a location off Blackhorse Road, near where I’d photographed trains a couple of days earlier. This provided enough elevation to allow for a good view of the horizon.

To better capture the definition of the sun, I selected a small aperture (large ‘f’ number), and intentionally under exposed by about 2/3s of a stop.

To retain the reddish color, I set my white balance to ‘daylight’, otherwise the camera’s software would attempt to ‘balance’ the color and neutralize the unusual color created by refraction of the light in the atmosphere (the very effect I was hoping to capture).

Althought, this might seem contrary, I also, made a couple of photos using my Nikon Z6’s black & white modes.

Below are several examples . If you look closely at the englarged image of the sun you’ll see a sun spot.

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Nine Years Ago—Confluence of Celebrity Locomotives!

At the end of May 2014, fellow photographer Pat Yough and I took Amtrak to Salisbury, North Carolina to partake in the epic gathering of celebrity locomotives described as ‘Streamliners at Spencer.’

This was an extremely well organized and enjoyable event.

Many of our fellow photographers were on site.

Over the seveal day-long event, I exposed numerous photos of beautiful locomotives.

Our first full day at Spencer Shops was May 29, 2014.

Below are a selection of the JPGs, I made with my Canon EOS-7D on that day. In retrospect, I find it fascinating to see that gathered in one place were so many familiar faces of railroading!

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Irish Rail’s Wicklow Cabin—Armstrong Levers at Work.

In the summer of 1998, Denis McCabe and I paid a visit to Wicklow Cabin on the Dublin & South Eastern route.

Working with Ilford HP5 35mm film loaded in a Nikon, I exposed this photograph of the signalman working the old mechnical frame. I don’t recall his name, but he was friendly and enjoyed having his photo made.

I processed the film in Ilford ID11, and many years later scanned the negatives using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner.

Over my many years photographing Irish Rail, I exposed hundreds of black & white photos in signal cabins to preserve on film these icons of antique signaling that were still in daily use.

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Streamlined Steam in a Pastoral Setting

Last week, Strasburg Rail Road was offering ‘In-Cab Experiences’ with former Norfolk & Western steamlined J-Class locomotive 611. These were scheduled to operate in a relatively secluded section on the Leaman Place-end of the railroad.

I made this digital view looking across the fields of the locomotive under steam using a Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Nikkor Z-series zoom. My aim was to capture the majesty of the locomotive in pastoral setting.

By using selective focus and aiming through the lush Spring foliage, I hoped to create a sense of depth.

After exposure, I made a few nominal adjustments to the Nikon NEF RAW file using Adobe Light room. Notably, I used the ‘Select Sky mask setting’ to selectively lower the highlight density in the sky-area in order to avoid a loss of color and provide better balance the overall scene.

Exposed at 1/500th of a sec, f5.6, ISO 100, 70-200mm zoom set to 200mm.

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OH NO! When Auto Focus Fails . . .

The other day I had an ‘oh no!’ moment involving the autofocus system on my Nikon Z6 fitted with a 70-200mm zoom.

Most of the time the autofocus with my Z-series cameras works very well. On rare occasion it misses completely.

I was set-up at Christiana, Pennsylvania along Amtrak’s former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line waiting for westward Keystone service number 605 in order to catch it passing the old PRR station.

I’d set the autofocus to ‘single-point’ (which allows to preselect a distinct point in the frame as the desired place of sharpness) and the system to ‘AF-C’ (continuous), a mode that in theory should continuously adjust the focus on the subject point.

There were three complicating conditions that in combination yielded an undesirable result. 1) The scene was back-lit with bright morning sun, which can make it more difficult for the autofocus system to quickly pick the focus on the desired point. 2) The train was moving faster than 90mph, which not only made it difficult to focus, but gave me no room for error when the shutter was released. 3) The headlights on Amtrak’s ACS-64 use a form of LEDs that produce a wavelength that can momentarily confuse the autofocus system on the camera. I’ve experienced these unfortunate effects previously.

The result was one photo where the focus was slightly off, followed by a second closer image where the focus was missed completely.

One solution for future efforts; I can use the autofocus to pre-focus on the desired location and the switch it off, thus avoiding the condition where at the last split second the focus shifts. But this too is a gamble, and doesn’t always work as hoped.

Although close to what I’d hoped to capture, the autofocus missed slightly and the front of the engine is not precisely sharp. The focus a actually about 40 ft further back. While this may appear sharp enough for internet presentation, it not great in terms of precision focus.
A split second later I made this slightly closer image, and in this one the camera focus system was confused altogether. I wasn’t aiming for a abstract image, but rather a nice sharp image of the train with the old station in background. Considering the speed at which this train was moving, but the time the camera refocused, the headend was alread passed me.

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Mastodon at Blackhorse

My favorite Strasburg Railroad steam locomotive is former Norfolk & Western 475.

I like its classic appearance and long boiler, but I’m also drawn to the relatively unusual wheel arrangement; 4-8-0.

Historically, this type was sometimes described as a ‘Mastodon’, perhaps because of its proportions. Another name for the 4-8-0 is ‘Twelve Wheeler,’ and this, while descriptive, doesn’t invoke romantic or alusive connotations.

Sunday, Kris and I caught old 475 coming and going at Blackhorse Road. I made these photos with my Nikon Z-series digital cameras. I thought back to November 1996, when I made photos of this same engine here on Kodachrome film. A differnt media for a different time.

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Amtrak on the Main Line under wire

I often wonder if titles make a difference in viewership. If I called this ‘Energised ACS-64s ‘ would you have read it?

A couple of days ago, I set up at Leaman Place where the Strasburg Rail Road meets the old Main Line and waited for a pair of Amtrak Keystone services to pass by at speed.

Amtrak 605 was westbound, Amtrak 600 was eastbound. Confusingly, Amtrak’s 600-series Keystone trains are typically let by its ACS-64 electric locomotives that are also numbered in the 600-series.

Inevitably someone will ask me what the difference is between a train and locomotive. The Keystone services are train and carry train numbers. Amtrak’s ACS-64 are locomotives and carry locomotive numbers. One identifies a service (software) the other identies a specific piece of railroad rolling stock (hardware).

Amtrak 605 passed first; while Amtrak 600 passed only two minutes later. Had 605 been running just a little late, I may have scored a running meet.

All four photos were exposed using my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Z-series Nikkor zoom lens.

Amtrak Keystone No 605 is led by ACS-64 623.
Amtrak Keystone No 600 is led by ACS-64 622.
Tail end of Amtrak Keystone No 600.

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J-Class 4-8-4 Upclose!

Working with my Nikon Z7-II, I made these close-up views of Norfolk & Western J-Class number 611 at Strasburg.

This is a very popular locomotive!

I opted for some low-angle views in part for dramatic effect, but also to stay below the army of cell-photo photographers captivated by the J-class under steam.

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Dusty Sunrise at Gap—Amtrak 642

This morning, the combination of agricultural haze, moisture in the air, and dust high in the atmosphere from fires in western Canada made for soft rosy morning light.

I don’t make a habit of posting photos to Tracking the Light the day of exposure, so today is an exception.

A little while ago, I set up at Gap, Pennsylvania along the former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line, now Amtrak’s Harrisburg Line, in anticipation of Keystone train 642 racing east toward Philadelphia.

As the train took the curve west of Gap, I exposed this sequence of digital photos using my Nikon Z6 with Z-series 70-200mm zoom. ISO set to 400, white balance to ‘daylight auto’. All photos adjusted using Lightroom.

Although a non-conventional view, I like the last in the sequence that features the train in the distance with the focus on the wild flowers. Isn’t this how we often see trains, just a glimpse in the distance?

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Norfolk & Western 611 on the Move!

The first time I witnessed Norfolk & Western 611 on the move was on a trip with John Gruber nearly 29 years ago. We’d traveled from Wisconsin to northern Indiana to catch the BIG streamlined 4-8-4 working west on the old Nickel Plate Road near Valparaiso.

In May 2015, Pat Yough, Vic & Becky Stone and I photographed 611 working out of Manassas, Virginia on the old Southern Railway.

Yesterday, Sunday May 21, 2023, Kris and I watched 611 work Pennsylvania’s Strasburg Rail Road. It was a beautiful Spring day, and we made some lovely images of the engine crossing the fields in Pennsylvania Dutch country.

I made these views with my Nikon Z-series digital cameras.

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New England Central at Stafford-Ten Years Ago.

On the morning of May 21, 2013, I made these photos of New England Central’s southward 608 passing Stafford, Connecticut.

It was a brilliant clear morning and I was working with my Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.

Which do you like better? The telephoto view or the standard three-quarter ‘normal’ perspective?

Both were made from the same vantage point using the same lens-camera combination.

Screen shot of the Adobe Lightroom ‘work window’.

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Union Pacific SD70ACe—Colfax, California

Fifteen years ago today—May 20, 2008, I made this telephoto view of a Union Pacific SD70ACe leading an eastward freight at Colfax, Calif., on the ascent of Donner Pass.

I was working on my book ‘Railroads of California’ and looking to update my coverage of the Donner Pass crossing.

The photo was exposed on Fujichrome using a Canon EOS-3 with 100-400mm Canon zoom lens. Telephoto compression accentuated th effects of the gradient at Colfax.

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F-Units and Dome—2017

On the theme of F-units and Budd Vista domes, I thought I’d offer these views from May 2017.

I was looking through the digital archives for a photo from May 19th, and I found that for whatever reason, I’ve rarely photographed trains on May 19th! May 18th on the other hand seems to be a be popular day in my files.

So, on May 18th, 2017, I’d followed a Pan Am Railways Office Car Special on the Connecticut River Line with Tim Doherty.

We caught this classy train at variety of interesting locations.

The two F-units, known as ‘The Sisters,’ had served Conway Scenic Railroad from the mid-1990s until about 15 years ago when they were traded to Pan Am for GP38 252 and GP35 216.

I made these images using my first Fuji XT-1.

Pan of Pan Am’s OCS at North Hatfield, Mass. FP-9s and a former Wabash Budd Vista Dome.
Pan Am Railways’s Budd Vista Dome ‘BlueBird,’ likely named for the famous Wabash streamliner, is pictured passing the old yard tower at the West End of Boston & Maine’s East Deerfield Yard. May 18, 2017.

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252 with Frankenstein Cliff

My last photos of Monday’s Mountaineer Special were made just east of the Arethusa Falls grade crossing on New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch.

I’d explored this location for nearly four years. It appears among the early photos of the line that date back to the time of its construction. Yet is difficult to capture effectively. It is most effective of an eastward train.

My fascination is with the distinctive rocks of Frankenstein Cliff that loom ominously above the train. This time of the year can be key to making a successful photograph here. During the summer, when trees are completely leafed out, and light is thick with moisture it can be more difficult to see the cliffs above the train.

Mid-Spring can provides a better balance between the mountainous backround with foreground, while offer a hint of green foliage.

I made this view with a Nikon Z6 with70-200mm Nikkor Z-series zoom.

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The Gateway at Crawford Notch

Monday’s Mountaineer Social was the first passenger excursion over Crawford Notch since November.

This famous view has been popular with photographers for generations.

I was standing on the side of Route 302 looking across the chasm toward ‘The Girders.’ Lighting here can be a challenge. Normally when the train reaches Crawford this bridge would be in shadow . On Monday, bright hazy light made for excellent conditions to capture a train in this stunning vista.

To give the passengers a good view of the scenery, Conway Scenic’s trains take easy when approaching the Gateway at Crawford Notch.

The train’s slow speed and a handy telephoto zoom lens allowed me to make several compositions of the train on the bridge by adjusting focal length and framing as the train climbed through the Notch.

Nikon Z-6 with 70-200mm Nikkor Z-Series zoom set to 135mm, f4.5 1/640 sec, ISO 200.
Nikon Z-6 with 70-200mm Nikkor Z-Series zoom set to 70mm, f4.5 1/640 sec, ISO 200.
Nikon Z-6 with 70-200mm Nikkor Z-Series zoom set to 90mm, f4.5 1/640 sec, ISO 200.
Nikon Z-6 with 70-200mm Nikkor Z-Series zoom set to 200mm, f4.5 1/400 sec, ISO 200.

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Mountaineer Social at Milepost 79

Yesterday, Conway Scenic Railroad operated its annual Mountaineer Social demonstration/familiarization train. This was the first excursion of the 2023 season to run over Crawford Notch to Fabyan, New Hampshire.

I followed the train by road to make photos and video for upcoming advertising campaigns.

I made this telephoto sequence at milepost P79 near the Arethusa Falls grade crossing using a Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Nikkor Z-series zoom.

Although back-lit, hazy clouds diffused the light which added depth.

I made some selected adjustments in Lightroom, including overall lightening of the images and softening of overal contrast

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F-Unit Surprise at Sawyers River

Saturday, on our way back from travels in the White Mountains, Kris and I were approaching Sawyers River.

In passing, I said, “The 12:30 Sawyers train should be running around right about now. Check to see what engine is on it today.”

“There’s the head light, hey wait, I think its the F-unit!”

This was a pleasant surprise. Turns out that 470 Club’s former Boston & Maine F7A 4268 that was restored to service in 2022, had been assigned to the Valley services for its first run of the Spring season.

We pulled into the parking lot at 4th Iron Bridge over the Sawyers River and I set up to catch the train on its return to North Conway. GP38 252 was leading eastbound while at the back was the classic F7A.

From here we followed the train east to Bartlett, Goves and Glen, before returning home.

GP38 252 crossed the 4th Iron Bridge over Sawyers River. Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Nikkor Z-series zoom set at 70mm. ISO 100 .
Conway Scenic Railroad 252 at 4th Iron Bridge. Lumix LX7 photo.
Former Boston & Maine F7A 4268 was at the west end of Saturday’s Sawyer River train. Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Zoom lens (set to 104mm). Lush green foliage makes for a nice Spring setting.
Approaching Albany Avenue in Bartlett, New Hampshire. Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens.
The railroad’s Kershaw ballast regulator was stored in the siding at Barlett. Lumix LX7 photo.

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Telephoto trailing view at Bartlett, New Hampshire. Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm zoom lens set to 150mm.

Signaling Relic at Plymouth

Yesterday, we paused at Plymouth, New Hampshire to document a surviving example of a Union Switch & Signal lower quadrant semaphore on the former Boston & Maine’s Boston, Concord & Montreal route.

I’m sure there is a story about how this relic from the early years of automatic block signaling has survived in place on this rarely used former B&M route.

The signal is long out of service and likely a vestige of passenger services on this once important route. Signals of this type were typically used to protect following moves. In this configuration, the signal was was designed to display three aspects for two block protection in Automatic Block Territory.

Photos exposed using a Lumix LX7.

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Approach Solitude

This is among my favorite signal photos. It has appeared in various publications over the years including my original book on railroad signals.

I made the image on a trip along the old Denver & Rio Grande Western in the Utah desert on September 3, 1996 the mid 1990s with Mel Patrick and my pal TSH .

This shows an ‘Approach’ aspect for an eastward train at the west switch of Solitude siding. Seen in the distance is the headlight of a westward train taking the siding.

I made the image in the minutes before sunrise when the light in the desert is rapidly changing. Exposed with a Nikon F3T.

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First Capitol Connect—Harpenden

On this day in 2010, (12 May) I traveled from Harpenden to central London on the Midland mainline using the First Capitol Connect franchise.

While waiting for my train, I made these photos of another train serving the opposite platform. The wild electric paint livery and window reflections made for a modern composition.

The Midland mainline is among the busiest trunk routes in the UK with trains passing every few minutes on a quad track line.

Photos were made as RAW files with a Lumix LX3. This was my first digital camera. Last night I processed the RAW files using Adobe Lightroom.

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Colorful diesels in May Morning Light.

It was a beautiful morning in North Conway the other day. I arrived just as a switch crew was working the yard. They were moving equipment to suit the needs of the roundhouse crew.

I spent a few minutes with my Nikon Z7-II and 24-70 zoom to make the best use of the rich morning sun.

I found that it helps to chat with the crew, so I could anticipate each move and be in position to make the most of the situation.

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Union Pacific Book!

I thought May 10th would be the perfect day to announce the publication of my new book titled Union Pacific and Its Predecessors.

This covers more than 150 years of Union Pacific history and includes the modern day railroad and most of its primary components (among the them Chicago & North Western, Missouri Pacific, Southern Pacific and Western Pacific)

If you ask, ‘Why May 10th?’ then you will need to read the book! (See chapter 1, pages 16 & 17).

My old pal TSH (and Tracking the Light reader) made the cover photo of UP freights at Norden, on Donner Pass.

The book is available from Kalmbach Media at:

One of many interior photos show the Union Pacific in action. I made the original image on FujiChrome with a Nikon F3 with 180mm lens.

Tracking the Light marks May 10th!

Conway Branch Bridges (Part 2) and a SNAKE!

On y travels with Wayne Duffett last week during his annual inspection of the bridges on the Conway Branch, I made more than 100 photos with my Lumix LX7.

I documented both Wayne’s detail inspection of each bridge, and the bridges themselves.

During the course of our investigations we encountered a snake along the Saco River. Any guesses as to what kind of snake this is? Something viciously poisonous no doubt!

Any ideas as to what sort of snake this is? A lethal rattling copper-coated New Hampshire python viper?

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Going . . . going. . .

Sunday morning I made an ambitious push to reduce the wee Reading Company to timber, nails, wires, track sections and bits of plaster. Hours of demolition erased 2 1/2 years of creation.

I’d already removed and packed away most of the remaining structures, rolling stock. Only the group of railroad company houses at Cressona Yard remained (largely because I want to preserve the scenery around the houses as well as the structures and will need to cut them away from the layout.)

My serious demolition began with the unfinished portion of the layout at the east end of the railroad.

During various stages of the work I made documentation with my Lumix LX7. These photos are to show the results of my efforts.

Kris helped remove some of the bench work and helped cut away some of the rock formations that we plan to pack away. She also made the photos of me dismantling the railraod.

Over the next few days I’ll finish the job. I’m sacrificing my HO-scale Pennsylvania for the full scale version.

I learned a lot from this exercise. Next time I’ll build it better.

The photos are in order of exposure.

An hour into dismantling. The blue bucket is to store nails and screws removed from the benchwork.
Photo by Kris Sabbatino.
Photo by Kris Sabbatino.
Four hours into demolition.

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Work Train Caboose

In recent weeks, Conway Scenic’s work train crew have made great use of the railroad’s century-old wooden bodied caboose.

Although it is Spring, a chill has remained in the air in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley. So, several days ago the crew improved the car’s coal stove in the car and put it to use.

Using my Nikon Z7-II (with 24-70mm Nikkor lens), I made these photos at North Conway of the caboose and its classic coal stove To make the most of the large NEF RAW files, I processed them using Adobe Lightroom, reducing highlight density to improve detail, while lightening shadows.

Although, I have described these techniques in previous Tracking the Light posts, in this post, I’ve pushed the effect to a greater degree, which makes the alterations more evident.

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Annual Bridge Inspection

Yesterday (May 5, 2023), I accompanied Wayne Duffett of TEC Associates on his annual bridge inspection of the Conway Branch.

We picked up Conway Scenic Railroad HyRail truck TC206 at North Conway and went by road to Conway, where we arranged to set down on the track. From there we proceeded timetable west to look at bridges.

It was a fine Spring morning and probably the nicest day in the Mount Washington Valley in more than a week. A perfect time to be looking at bridges.

I made notes and took photos as Wayne carefully scrutinized every bridge between Conway and North Conway.

I made these images with my Nikon Z7-II, but also exposed photos with my Lumix LX7. I’ll present some of those photos at a later date.

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Last Run—May 4, 2023

In classic railroad tradition, Kris and I held one final run of the Wee Reading Co., complete with commemorative banner.

One of the RDC’s brought scale mileage collectors on a spin up frieght only lines. Then the 0-4-0 camelback took two cabooses from the yard, made a final spin around the main line and Mine Hill branches, up the switchback one last time and to the staging yard at the top of the hill.

The scale chasers paced until they ran out of road.

The tracks are clear, except for a lone caboose at West Cressona yard. All the other equipment has been boxed up and packed away.

Tomorrow, I begin packing away the structures and then I’ll begin lifting of the track.

Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.

Special thanks to all my friends who helped me make this scale railway possible including, Bob & Ken Buck, Joe Costello, Ron Crenshaw, Tim Doherty, Paul Goewey, Dan Howard, Bill Keay, Richard Reed, Doug Scott, my father Richard Jay Solomon, my mother-in-law Sharon Sabbatino, and of course my wife Kris!

It was fun, but it’s done. Good bye Wee Reading Company Mark I!

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June TRAINS Magazine

I received my copy of June 2023 Trains Magazine the other day in the mail.

With a cover story on the recent CP + KCS merger this features two of my stories. On page 10 is my, “Delaware & Hudson marks 200 years,” and on page 22 an eight page feature titled, “Tourist Railway Success Stories.” In that latter story, I give my wife, Kris, a couple of mentions, as well as crediting my friend (and Tracking the Light reader) Wayne Duffett credit for introducing me to the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington two-foot gauge. I also promote the Connemara Project at Maam Cross in Ireland, with a special mention for Jim Deegan.

I may be a little biased (just), but I feel this is one of the best issues of TRAINS that I’ve read in a long time!

June 2023 Trains cover photo by Jordan Hood.
My photo of the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington is the two page opener for my eight-page story on Tourist Railways. I made this photo using my FujiFilm XT1.

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Irish Rail in Dublin—3 May 2014

It was a typical Irish overcast day on 3 May 2014. Using my Canon 7D, I made this selction photos of Irish Rail.

Last night, I imported my nine year old Canon CR2 RAW files into Lightroom and re-profiled them as an exercise.

Three of the four photos below were adjusted for color, contrast, and exposure. One of the images was the in-camera JPG.

One of the great advantages of working with digital RAW files in post processing is the ability to lighten the shadow areas. This small adjustment can significanly improve the appearance of photos made in dull overcast lighting.

Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake lens. Adjusted CR RAW file.
Irish Rail ad on a Dublin Bus. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm f2.0 lens. Canon JPG.
Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake lens. Adjusted CR RAW file.
Canon EOS 7D with 100mm telephoto lens. Adjusted CR RAW file.

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Saco River Flooding-May 1, 2023

It rained all day and all night over the weekend. In the wee hours of Monday morning I was awakened by a monsoon that pounded away at the roof of the house in Center Conway.

After work on Monday, May 1, 2023, Kris and I went to photograph the Saco River that had burst its banks and flood the appropriately named River Road between East Conway, NH and Fryeburg, Maine.

I made these photos using my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm zoom.

River Road in East Conway looking toward Fryeburg.
River Road in Fryeburg, Maine looking toward the New Hampshire state line.

The broad raging waters of the normally placid Saco River at Fryeburg, Maine. This shows the central piers of the old River Road bridge.

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May 1st—Warsaw and London

On May 1, 2002, I arrived in Warsaw on the overnight sleeper from Dresden. I made this photo of Warsaw Central Station using Fujichrome slide film exposed with a Nikon F3T fitted with a 24mm Nikkor lens.

A version of this image previously ran on Tracking the Light in August 2014.

I was visiting London on May 1st, 2016. During the course of my travels, I made the view below of the Underground at West Brompton using a Lumix LX7.

1 May 2016, London Underground station at West Bromton. Lumix LX7 photo.

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